By Richie Murray
Du Quoin, Illinois………A unique format has been introduced for the fourth annual “Junior Knepper 55” USAC Midget Special Event on Saturday, December 15 at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
In this instance, instead of the pill draw determining the starting lineups for the heat races, the drivers will be allowed to choose where they will start, provided there is an open position when it is their turn to pick. Drivers will first draw a pill for the order in which they will have the opportunity to choose which heat race and position they will start. This puts the decision into the drivers’ own hands, thus lessening the element of “luck of the draw.”
In prior years format, if a driver draws a low number in the pill draw, the driver is automatically assigned to the front starting spot of a heat race. This year, all competitors will draw as usual, with the resulting order leading to the “Junior Knepper 55” Draft Lottery. The picking process will be covered live on the Speed Shift TV pre-race show.
It will create a mental tug-of-war for drivers to figure out whether they want to take a more extreme approach to make a run to the front or take a conservative approach in order to earn the most passing points and guess the track conditions and setup correctly to advance through the night with the most points.
As the track changes over the course of eight heat races, track conditions may change, creating more passing opportunities which increases the probability of a driver being able to make a run from the tail of the field to earn more passing points. However, drawing toward the front or the back may not always be the best-case scenario with the new format as the “sweet spot” of where a driver wants to start the race from changes.
“I think it’s a great idea,” reigning Knepper 55 winner Christopher Bell exclaimed. “This gives us a chance to put ourselves where we think we can get the most points. Speaking from my experience, getting stuck on the front of the heat is less fun and less points. I want to help myself and put on a better show for the fans.”
“I like the idea that you kind of get to choose your own destiny,” 2016 USAC National Midget champion Tanner Thorson added. “Taking some of that luck out of it and putting it in our hands only makes me look forward to Saturday even more.”
It’s a unique format and idea that will add another intriguing aspect to the show to create the most entertainment for fans and remove fate out of the pill draw.
“This is an idea I was instantly excited about,” Knepper 55 promoter Nick Knepper said. Scorer Jake (Croxton) came up with something cool and new, and once they determined it was feasible, it was a no-brainer to try it in this special event setting. My family and I are excited to continue this event honoring my grandfather, and we hope everyone is as excited as we are to watch this play out.”
Most of the traditional aspects of the format will remain unaltered. There are two rounds of preliminary races – heats and qualifiers – in which competitors can earn passing points, which will determine the starting lineups of all the remaining events.
Passing points are earned based on advancement forward in relation to the assigned starting position at the one-to-go signal, meaning that scratches that alter the lineup are taken account of and the official lineup is set based on who shows up. There will not be any free passes because somebody else couldn’t make the start. Every position matters every lap.
Following the heat races, the four qualifying races will consist of the top-40 in points from the heats, who’ll be assigned starting positions in the qualifier based on the points earned in said heats. There will be six-car invert in each qualifier with the driver that earns the most points starting 6th in qualifying race 1. Drivers ranking 41st on back in total passing points following the heat races are placed into two C-Mains. The top-two from each C-Main will transfer to the back of the qualifying races, adding one driver to the tail of each of the four qualifying races.
After the qualifiers, the point totals from the heats and qualifiers are added together. The top-12 in total points will transfer directly to the feature. All other cars will start straight-up by total points earned, staggered between the two semi-feature events. The top-four finishers from each semi-feature will transfer to the 55-lap feature event.
Seventy-four drivers have pre-entered for the event on the 1/6-mile, indoor dirt oval located adjacent to the one mile dirt track at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.
Among those entered are past “Knepper 55” winners Christopher Bell (2017) and Tyler Courtney (2016). Bell (2013) is one of four USAC National Midget champions entered, including Tanner Thorson (2016), Dave Darland (2001 & 02) and Kevin Olson (1982 & 1987).
Justin Grant, the only driver to win races in all three national divisions in 2018, will be a teammate to five-time USAC Light Up the World Western States Midget champion Ronnie Gardner. Zeb Wise, the youngest ever feature winner in USAC National Midget history, is among several USAC National feature winners along with C.J. Leary, Thomas Meseraull, Carson Short, Shane Cockrum and Chris Urish. Meanwhile, five-time Indianapolis 500 starter Conor Daly, of Noblesville, Ind., is set to make his second career midget start.
Tickets are now on sale for the 4th annual “Junior Knepper 55” at https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2018-knepper-55-ticket-sales. The race will serve as the final event of the 2018 USAC racing season.
Adult general admission tickets are available for just $19 in advance. Adult general admission tickets at the door are $20, kids 6-12 are $10 and kids 5 years-old and under are FREE! Pit passes are $30 for USAC members and $35 for non-members. Pit passes can be purchased at http://www.TracPass.com/.
Furthermore, on https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2018-knepper-55-ticket-sales, you may order your 2018 “Junior Knepper 55” event t-shirt now for just $25. Sizes small through 4XL are available, but make sure to get yours soon while supplies last.
Pits open at 8am (Central) on raceday and pit passes go on sale at 10am. Spectator doors open at 2:30pm with a public drivers meeting taking place in the turn one grandstands at 3:30pm. Cars are scheduled to hit the track for hot laps at 4pm.
The race will be streamed LIVE on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ with LIVE audio on the USAC app. As always, you can catch each and every USAC National event a day after the race is run, on-demand, on http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.